A recent reply by the Central Govt to Supreme Court regarding giving command positions to women officers created a furor, the basis of Center’s reply consisted of, rural societal norms of the male troops, physiological reasons, consequences if taken prisoner of war, different physical standards and exposure. Given the consistency in the position taken by Army leadership in all the previous occasions whenever the matter of women’s role in Army came up for debate, Center’s reply doesn’t look out of sync with the view of the Army top brass.
Women have been part of Indian Army since 1990s when they were first inducted as Officers in the non-combat sections of the Army, women are still not permitted as Jawans, the first batch of women Jawans is slated to join the Army in a few years’ time. Women Officers in Army join as Short Service Officers in the non combat sections of the Army, they serve for 5 years and their service is extendable up to 14 years before they get released from the Army. Since their first induction, the women have been demanding equal opportunities and terms and conditions to be at par with the regular officers and have been inching towards more and more parity, for instance opening up of certain sections of the combat arms which was hitherto closed for women, like Engineers, if not into the core fighting sections like Infantry.
Keeping aside political correctness, which tend to overwhelm most contentious debates, denying combat and command role to women in the Armed Forces is an anomaly that needs correction. Historically, women have always been part of military in India, even Rigveda has mention of “Vishpala”, a warrior queen. Idea of women as a combatant is not alien to Indian culture, from mythologies to historical figures our folklore is peppered with women warriors. Indian culture accepts women as combatants, making Armed Forces an exclusive male-domain is a rather recent phenomenon, a British and Mughal legacy. If we see the culture of the middle east as well as medieval Europe, women in Army was considered a taboo, that idea got internalized over a period of time which needs to be shaken off.
Army as an organization needs to be fleet footed and eager to change with the times and adapt to the nation’s needs. Change is never easy, it requires an organization to critically evaluate itself, question it’s own long held beliefs and push itself out of the comfort zone to remain competitive in an ever changing world, but more often than not Army is found fighting change rather than fighting status quo.
We need to go beyond the symbolic entry of women in the Army to cater to political correctness, the present terms and conditions are discriminatory in nature, Army needs to become gender neutral and open up completely to the idea of all genders in combatant role purely based on knowledge, skill and ability. Govt needs to open Rashtriya Indian Military College, Military Schools, Sainik Schools, NDA as well as IMA to women as well.
Denial of combat and higher command role to women in Army is more a matter of mindset than anything tangible, ability cannot be pre-judged, and opportunity cannot be denied to those seeking equality. It can be argued that even if all the vistas are opened for women there will be very few who pass the test, but even if few does, the opportunity to take the test cannot be denied in all fairness. Army should have the strength to accept it’s anomalies and past mistakes, and take measures to correct them post haste.